Best of Nashville 2009: Food and Drink 

Best Restaurant:
Yawn. I still love Zola. Year in, year out, Zola tops the list. Lord knows, for purposes of editorial variety I'd love to tell you one of Nashville's other excellent restaurants—City House, Flyte, Watermark, Capitol Grille, Margot Café, Miro, tayst, Miel, F. Scott's or Giovanni among them—had usurped my affections since my last dîner à deux under the sand dune murals, but Zola is my Steady Eddie. Or maybe my Steady Debbie, as it's Deb Paquette and husband Ernie who bring the surefooted consistency of a couple of camels to the West End window on the Sahara. With a menu of North African and Mediterranean delights delivered in understated elegance, Zola blends the timeless flavors of a desert oasis with the inventive whimsy of a modern metropolis. Again this year. Carrington Fox

Best New Restaurant:
There's a lot to say about Arnold Myint's latest Belmont landmark: From the vibrant canvases on warm white walls, to the crisp candied Asian pears floating in icy martinis, Myint seizes every opportunity to delight the senses. But no matter how creative and carnal the Asian-inspired Spanish-style tapas that grace the stainless-steel chef's table may be—from spicy shrimp to braised bison short ribs served in a hollowed-out bone—it's the surprisingly shameless decadence of the abuelita that makes ChaChah dance. In a pristine teapot, Myint delivers a sultry sludge of Mexican chocolate as unexpected as the contemporary culinary sensibilities that simmer inside the vintage bungalow. Carrington Fox

Best Chef:
Jeremy Barlow, tayst

To decide this category, we used to weigh a range of variables from food quality to presentation to price. No more. Now the Scene just holds a contest—Iron Fork—in which the best chefs we can find battle it out over a secret ingredient to determine kitchen supremacy. This spring, tayst's chef/owner Barlow took home the Golden Fork after besting the competition in Battle Asparagus. With his finger on the pulse of the restaurant industry and the city's first certification from the Green Restaurant Association, Barlow is a trendsetter in local foods and sustainable business, known as much for his playful Krispy Kreme bread pudding as for his dead-serious efforts to operate an environmentally responsible enterprise. Carrington Fox

Best Meal Under $10:
Brothers Niko and David Gehrke's Greek eatery across from the Family Wash is just the kind of restaurant East Nashville needs more of—a place to get a fresh, delicious dinner for under a sawbuck. The menu features recipes from the homeland masterminded by their mother Eleni, and nearly all of the items clock in at $8 or less. The hummus, tzatziki and eggplant on the Mediterranean platter have enough garlic to ward off the entire cast of Twilight (which is a good thing), and the beefteaki souvlaki with a side (we recommend the arraka—sweet peas cooked with crushed tomatoes, fresh dill, olive oil, salt, pepper, red onions and scallions) is the best $6 meal in town. Zavós is currently open Thursday through Saturday, with plans to be open six days a week once a liquor license is secured. Jack Silverman

Best Dining Trend:
Eating in Fields
Rather than dragging the harvest into the kitchens, chefs met the crops halfway this year, staging rustically elaborate (or elaborately rustic?) feasts in the fields where the food came from. Chef Martha Stamps teamed up with the movable feast Outstanding in the Field to host a dinner at Arugula's Star Farm; Margot McCormack of Margot Café spread a banquet of blankets across Hungry Gnome Farm; and Jeremy Barlow of tayst teamed up with Delvin Farms for a plein air pig roast. Taking the locavore movement to its al fresco extreme, such grand gastronomic gestures are reconnecting diners to their food—in a way that could change forever how we eat. Carrington Fox

Best Brunch:
An alternate title for this category could be Best Place for a Culinary Campout, because I'd like to reserve the same table at Miel for Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch and just spend the night. After a lingering evening of foie gras, escargots and trout in Seema and Jimmy Phillips' sleek Sylvan Park dining room, I'd unfurl my sleeping bag on the serene back patio and drift off into a wine-induced slumber, dreaming of orange-custard French toast and Callebaut hot chocolate. When the sun peeked up over Charlotte Pike, I'd rise to the scent of Benton's bacon and sip away the morning grogginess with a steaming French press of dark roast. Shrimp and grits, braised short ribs with poached eggs and house-made granola with macerated berries, orange zest and that's my idea of roughing it. Carrington Fox

Best Neighborhood Farmers' Market:
West Nashville Farmers' Market
Remember that scene in Something's Gotta Give, when Frances McDormand picks up Keanu Reeves at the farmstand in the Hamptons? Regardless of how you feel about Keanu Reeves, at least you can admit that all that farm-fresh produce made your heart skip a beat. In the spirit of that bountiful meet-cute, the good people at the nonprofit Good Food for Good People have launched a family-friendly gathering of local growers and artisanal food producers at the edge of Richland Park. With samples from neighborhood restaurants including Miel and Park Cafe, live music and plenty of locavore shopping, the WNFM is fast becoming a film-worthy Saturday-morning tradition. Carrington Fox

Best Affordable Luxury:
1808 Grille
If you're headed to 1808 for dinner, brace your wallet. But if you're looking for a noontime retreat, the so-called Panini Parlor delivers surprising bang for your buck. The parlor isn't actually a separate room, but a nickname for the mix-and-match menu of grilled sandwiches. Choose a meat from column A, a cheese from column B, and so on, until you've got a custom concoction—along the lines of pulled duck with caramelized onions and chimichurri—for about 10 bucks. Once you succumb to the playful desserts—banana beignets, peanut butter mousse and très leches crème brûlée—you're beyond the bounds of "cheap eats," but dining in the casual elegance of the Hutton Hotel is worth a small premium. Carrington Fox

Best Vietnamese Not On Charlotte Pike:
Far East Vietnamese
Maybe it's not time to overthrow the beloved West Nashville landmarks Miss Saigon and Kien Giang by awarding an absolute title of Best Vietnamese to an upstart, but the sleek Asian eatery in the historic building at Martin Corner has made a valiant East Side debut with a menu of fresh homemade delicacies including stir-fry, pho and thick sweet coffee. Sure, the service can be slow, but that's only because owner Hang Rosburg and her sister Hien cook everything to order. You can't ask for better than that. And really, how much faster are you gonna get your pho fix if you have to drive all the way across the river? Carrington Fox

Best New Cool Trend:
Fleur de Lis Flavors in the Farmers' Market, the Snowball Stand in Hillsboro Village and The Jolly Rogue in East Nashville brought a blizzard of frozen fun to town this summer, with their fluffy cups of shaved ice drizzled with vibrant syrups, coconut milk and cream. From the ubiquitous wedding cake and tiger's blood brews to Jolly Rogue's playful Carmen Miranda combo, these aren't the felt-tip-marker flavors of your childhood sno-cones. These are New Orleans-style delicacies playful enough to make a child smile on a sweaty afternoon, delicious enough to make a grown-up come back for more. Carrington Fox

Best Live Alternative to the Food Network:

The Curious Gourmet
Go ahead, sit home and watch Guy Fiore while you eat Pringles on the couch. Or for $50 you can enroll in one of this appealing Franklin cookware shop's demonstration cooking classes, performed in a small but handsomely designed show kitchen outfitted with a giant overhead mirror for maximum visibility. Instructor Kat Kolts never misses a beat as she narrates her multi-course meals—all of which are parceled out to the class for tasting. And when it's all over, class spills out onto Franklin's picturesque Main Street for a literal walk down memory lane. It's worth attending just to watch Kolts fire up the Aga, a magnificent British-built cast-iron oven with an astounding array of functions that's a miracle of engineering. You can take one home after class...for a mere $18,000. See for a list of classes. JIM RIDLEY

Best Tea:
Partners Tea Co.
After years of exploring the tea routes firsthand, globetrotter Sarah Scarborough turned her passion for travel into a fair-trade company that promotes women in the tea trade around the world. Drawing on sources from across Africa and Asia, Scarborough and business partner Jodi Banks create and market a line of organic tea blends with poetic titles such as Zelda, Sweet Friend and Popeye. Flavored with earthy hints of rose, cocoa, mint, vanilla and jasmine, the teas are a steaming indulgence on a cool day—or keep an eye out for one of Partners' tea-tini gatherings, where Scarborough trades the teapot for the cocktail shaker, making signature drinks with tea, vodka, gin and other liquors. Talk about adding new spirit to a tea party. Available at Frothy Monkey, Caldwell Collection, Cupcake Collection and Bread & Co., among other stores, Partners Teas cost about $10 per tin of 12 biodegradable sachets. Carrington Fox

Best Breakfast Secret:
Nashville Biscuit House
Tucked away on Gallatin Road in what had to have been the edifice of an old, long-gone fast food place, there lies the kind of fine breakfast that can soothe killer hangovers and broken hearts alike. If you're looking for breakfast (not brunch, which is an entirely different animal), there's nowhere better. Exceptional variety and prices, with peerless biscuits and the kind of perfectly crisp bacon that makes you want to just sit back and say "Damn, that's some fine bacon." Pancakes and eggs and pretty much whatever you could think of to fill your breakfast needs, served quickly and with genuine friendliness. Jason ShawHan

Best Place for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner:
FidoThe old dogs whose favorite trick was to fetch coffee and a muffin at the Hillsboro Village coffee shop have dug up a pleasant surprise: Suddenly the muffins at Fido are great! And breakfast is just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to chef John Stephenson's focus on seasonal and local cuisine and pastry chef Lisa Bachman's clever creations, the 13-year-old Fido has emerged as a favorite all-day pet among serious foodies. Start with a muffin, then work up to flank steak, fish tacos and pan-seared shrimp on mashed white beans. Next thing you know, you won't be calling Fido a coffeehouse anymore—except, of course, when you're stocking up on Bongo Java Roasting Company's "Yes We Can" custom-label beans. Carrington Fox

Best Dinner Before a Movie:
If you're on the way to the Green Hills Regal, there's no more efficient spot to grab a quick healthy bite than Maher Fawaz's friendly eatery. On weekend evenings, a dulcet guitar duet accompanies the fresh repertoire of gyros, falafel, Greek salads and grilled tuna. Save room for the homemade baklava and tiramisu, and feel free to BYOB. If you're not facing the front windows with the view of Pier One and the crowded Green Hills parking lot, you might forget where you are and lose yourself in a leisurely Mediterranean reverie. Of course, you could end up missing the movie, but that could bode well for date night. Carrington Fox

Best Sunday Dinner:
City House
We're not sure if we have Jesus or football to blame, but very few of Nashville's finest dining establishments are open on Sundays. Capitalizing on this dearth of options, Tandy Wilson's City House offers a special Sunday menu that's lighter on the entrées and heavier on the pizzas, which are to die for. Cooked in a wood-burning brick-oven and featuring a pitch-perfect crust, the pies are available in a variety sure to please both vegetarians and omnivores. Recent selections have included a squash-and-zucchini pizza with ricotta, garlic and thyme, and a decadent combo of fennel, zumpina (house-made Italian sausage) and pecorino. And Sunday also spotlights the much vaunted "Pork Snacks" selection: When was the last time you had pig's heart? Crispy pig ears? Head cheese? Here's hoping my rabbi isn't reading. Jack Silverman

Best Expansion News:
Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
We hear that as early as November, Patrick Martin is moving his Nolensville BBQ outfit to a bigger, better, badder location. And not a moment too soon: On weekend nights, business at the current Martin's is so good that you can wait 20 minutes just to reach the counter to order. As for concerns the new joint could lose the homey roadhouse vibe of the old place, Martin says not to worry—the new Martin's is just a short skip down the road, and the pitmaster/proprietor is taking care to keep the license-plate-album-cover-and-Dukes-of-Hazzard-memorabilia décor as-is. And the 'cue? There'll be much less chance of it running out. By the way, love ya, Jimmy Carl's—there's always room for more great barbecue in Middle Tennessee. JIM RIDLEY

Best New Spot for Ladies Who Lunch:
Brian Hainley's pretty restaurant has been operating at the historic Belle Meade Plantation for only a month, but the LWL—and some of their gentlemen, too—are buzzing about the polished room, with its white cloths and single rosebuds on the tables, and the modern Southern repertoire including fried green tomatoes, beef short rib burgers and poached lobster salad. A CIA grad with a résumé that weaves from Nashville to California and back, Hainley has brought a sophisticated shine to the room—think pâté served in canning jars and French fries delivered in silver julep cups—that seems to satisfy an appetite in the tony neighborhood. So far, the restaurant has only served lunch, but the dinner bell will begin tolling this week. Carrington Fox

Best Cupcake:
The Cupcake Collection
You want to see a tempest in a teapot? Then log onto Bites, the Scene’s food blog, and declare your preference for one cupcake above the many in Nashville’s crowded cupcake landscape. Blessed are we to have so many tiny cakes to choose from—Dulce, Cuppycakes, Gigi’s, The Picnic, The Painted Cupcake and Christie Cookies among them. But for $1.50 a pop, the François family delivers superior value and flavor from their cozy old house in Germantown. You want to see a slightly less angry tempest in a teapot? Log onto Bites and say which Cupcake Collection flavor you like best. (Hint: If you say toasted coconut or strawberry-lemonade, nobody in her right mind will argue with you.) Carrington Fox

Best Beverage Alternative to Coffee:
Fresh Blends
Sometimes it’s not the dark roast so much as it is the light banter that makes coffee so addictive. So if you’ve got to kick the caffeine, or even if it’s just too hot outside to lap a latte, don’t give up the ritual of morning chitchat at your favorite way-station between home and the cubicle farm. Just swap java for juice. There’s no cheerier place to get your beta-carotene fix than the Belmont outpost of Fresh Blends, where the big-ass blender spits out a vibrant array of juices—beet, carrot, ginger, apple, wheat grass and more—that can be combined into a rainbow of quaffable salads so healthy as to make you positively jittery. Carrington Fox

Best Cheap Takeout:
Satay Thai Grill
When the back of the throat starts to tickle, the mind wanders first to the takeout counter at Satay, then to the pharmacy. Tom yum soup—bobbing with chicken, fresh cilantro and hunks of tomato—offers more curative power than a Z-pack, and owner Tong Prasertinh serves up the soothing elixir as fast as a drive-through Walgreen's. Once you're there, you'll be seduced by chicken and pork skewers, summer rolls, gleaming noodles and fluffy salads with tamarind dressing—few if any of which exceed $7. No need to wait for cold-and-flu season: Satay's prescription for fresh, inexpensive fare—especially the steamed chicken bun with hoisin and English cucumbers—will cure what ails you, even if it's just a nagging hunger for something unusually fresh and inexpensive. Carrington Fox

Best Soul Food:
A Nashville institution for decades, the Swett family restaurants—particularly the original Clifton location—are still among the few places in Nashville where people of all backgrounds and origins routinely mingle without anyone even thinking about it. If you like cornbread, collards, black-eyed peas or other soul food staples more than you like to cook for yourself, then fill up a tray and pull up a seat at either the flagship store or at Bicentennial Mall restaurant. At both low-key locations, the tradition of a diverse dining room is worth more than a dozen modern flat-screen TVs. Ron Wynn

Best Fried Chicken:
Southern Bred
For people who prefer chicken with a deep-bronze and hard-wrought fryer-thickened coating, Sharon Johnson's Trinity Lane meat-and-three is not the choice of champions. But for those of us who appreciate a delicate, blond finish with a whisper-light texture akin to tempura, Southern Bred is best of breed. Meticulously clean frying oil and a buttermilk batter produce a succulent bird that can be deftly handled with fork and knife without sending thick-skinned wings flying across the table. Some may call it "girly," but I dare you to say that to the burliest of men wolfing down drumsticks, squash casserole and homemade muffins at Johnson's Southern-style lunchtime landmark on the East Side. Carrington Fox

Best Hot Wings:
Knockout Wings
They're neither the hottest nor the biggest wings in town: Mojo Grill's fine radioactive flippers have them beat on both counts. But bigger wings are harder to cook properly, and hotter wings tend to leave you screaming at both ends without tasting much in the middle. This Jefferson Street eatery's wings are cooked so adroitly—deep fried to a ruddy crust, which pops every time you bite into the juicy meat inside—that they're dandy just plain. (The lemon pepper is a good alternative for folks who can't stand an unadorned drumstick.) Don't let that warn you off the heat, though—folks who crave that lip-singeing burn will come away in sweet, sweet pain. Make sure you order the airy, sweet-crusted honey biscuits, and bring a few quarters to relive your '80s mall-rat days at the Raiden game by the front counter. JIM RIDLEY

Best Boudin:
Re'Je's Grab & Go
The Cajun specialty boudin (pronounced "boo-DAN") is a sausage casing stuffed with a mixture of rice and organ meat. Appetizing, huh? It is if you're buying it from a rice cooker at some Gas 'n' Sip near Lake Charles, La., where it may be the world's greatest convenience-store food, but we pretty much gave up on it in Middle Tennessee after getting a sample years ago that tasted like the inside of a Popeye's dumpster. Then we saw Jennifer Boone-Henry stationed at her smoker outside her hole-in-the-wall Berry Hill lunch spot—or rather, we smelled the plumes of sausage-scented smoke—and all is now right with the world. Firm and not at all mushy, hers is imported from Louisiana, and she suggests you eat it by squeezing it from the casing onto saltine crackers. Stick around for her steak kebabs, a selection of sausages from chorizo to kielbasa, and what to our knowledge is a Nashville first, the foot-long hamburger. It's at 2815 Bransford Ave., 292-2147. JIM RIDLEY

Best Fried Pies:
Mayo's & Mahalia Jackson's Fried Pies & Chicken
Not long ago, I ordered a fried peach pie at Erika White's chicken stand on Jefferson and stepped aside so the woman behind me could order. To her dismay, I'd gotten the day's last pie—but her voice was so full of hurt that I offered her half mine. She took a bite, fluttered her eyes, and moaned, "Awww, that's it." To say that folks have missed E.W. Mayo's fried pies since his Buchanan Street kitchen closed is an understatement: The cultural caretakers at the Southern Foodways Alliance even commemorated his pies as a regional treasure. White reopened at 2008 Jefferson this summer using Mayo's recipe, and ever since she's been dishing out the half-moon delicacies with the crisp brown hand-crimped crust for just $1.50. She's also got the best hot fish sandwich this side of the Cumberland and killer hot wings, and we hear the football-sized Philly steak's no slouch either. JIM RIDLEY

Best Frozen Yogurt:
Sweet CeCe's
A slew of young Nashvillians just might grow up as hypochondriacs, thanks to the cheery serve-yourself froyo store located in the same building as some of the city's most popular pediatricians. Who begrudges going for a check-up when there's peanut butter-and-vanilla swirl with crumbled candy bars and gummy bears afterward? Even Mom might want to pony up the co-pay to get that dubious sore throat looked at when there's the promise of tart yogurt with fresh berries and coconut. You think Sweet CeCe's was a hit with the 'tween scene this summer? Just wait till flu season ramps into full swing. Carrington Fox

Best Seasonal Novelty:
Popcorn Ice Cream, Pied Piper
Every fall, as pennant season begins, Jenny Piper begins popping batches of popcorn, stirring them into her ice cream mix, then straining out the kernels and hulls. The popcorn mostly vanishes, but it leaves behind a trompe la langue taste that uncannily evokes a tub of hot buttered—only here it's ice cold. It's as awesome as those Jelly Belly popcorn-flavored jellybeans, except the taste here is even fuller. We've begged Piper to make it earlier, but we've struck out every time. C'mon, Pied Piper—play ball! JIM RIDLEY

Best Flatbread:
U.S.A. Bakery
One of the city's best-kept secrets, this Persian bakery stashed behind Gorilla's Mufflers on a side street off Nolensville Road is housed in a building much harder to notice than the U-Haul rental on the opposite corner. Walk inside, head back past the grocery stocked with take-home meals, sauce mixes and exotic cheeses, and pretty soon you're in the back room facing a bank of weathered ovens and a cart heaped with mounds of chewy fresh-baked flatbread the size of a large pizza. Imagine a cross between naan and flour tortillas, and you're on the right track. The bakers start their work just before sun-up, and often the bread is still warm in its plastic sacks. The best part: A pack of four flatbread discs goes for just $2. Turn onto Elysian Fields and start looking immediately for the small, high square sign. JIM RIDLEY

Best New Sandwich:
"Stevie B.," Savarino's
Named for Tennessee Titans head of security Steve Burke, The Stevie B. has quickly vaulted to the top of the heap at our favorite Hillsboro Village hang, duking it out with Savarino's stalwarts such as Italian cold-cut masterpiece The Ed Pontieri and The Frank Dileo, a rendezvous of sausage and broccoli rabe so decadent it could unravel whole civilizations. The Stevie B. layers thin, lightly breaded eggplant slices with broccoli rabe, asiago cheese, lettuce, tomato and a touch of bomba calabrese (a fiery hot sauce), all piled on one of the freshest rolls in town. After I tasted a friend's Stevie B., the insanely seductive marriage of flavors had me in its thrall, and I snarfed down half her sandwich before she could fend me off. And if some of you find a meatless sandwich emasculating, I've seen the real Stevie B., and he could kick your ass from here to Tullahoma with one hand behind his back and a cannoli in the other. Jack Silverman

Best Chocolate:
Olive & Sinclair
Bean-to-bar chocolate makers are the new microbreweries, popping up across the country to capitalize on the increasingly refined tastes of American consumers. Nashville's entry into this competitive, highly discerning market is Olive & Sinclair, Scott Witherow's "Southern Artisan" chocolate company tucked away behind Riverside Village. Witherow and his right-hand man David Sellers have waged a shrewd guerilla marketing campaign, showing up at events such as the Tomato Art Fest and a Grimey's in-store concert. (Clearly they know their audience.) Early buzz from local chocoholics—as discriminating as oenophiles and just as snobby—is off the charts. Samples dropped by the Scene offices were met with unanimous moans of approval. Cocoa densities range from 67 to 75 percent, and our favorites were the salt-and-pepper and cacao nibs versions. Olive & Sinclair bars are available at Mitchell Delicatessen, Imogene + Willie, The Green Wagon, Caldwell Collection, The Produce Place and Turnip Truck—and perhaps coolest of all, at The Belcourt's concession stand. Jack Silverman

Best Local Institution Worth Saving:
Family Wash
After hearing rumors of its imminent demise, a fan of this popular East Side venue fired off an email blast. The bottom line was that current economic conditions had hit the venerable Wash so hard that owner Jamie Rubin could no longer make ends meet. The bad news spread like a pub on fire, and local publications (including this one) commissioned articles on the Wash's troubles. Fortunately, the regulars doubled their intake of pies and pints, and business began to pick up—at least for now. "Since [the articles] I've seen a huge resurgence of people coming in," says Rubin, who has also instituted changes to satisfy his establishment's diverse fan base. "For those just wanting dinner, the music will be starting later. And I've reinstituted Thursday Vinyl Night," he says. More adjustments are pending. "A lot of cool people are coming together to help on different levels," Rubin says. Paul V. Griffith

Best Place to Get Lunch, a Wedding Ring, a Fifth of Bourbon, a Payday Candy Bar and a PayDay Loan in One Stop:
Wendell Smith's Corner
Since 1952, Wendell Smith's West Nashville micro-mall has been the last stop for people trying to get the hell out of town. Okay, that's my imagination. But there's something about Wendell's neon-and-stone-block wonderland that conjures dreams of illicit elopements and fedora-wearing bad guys on the run. Currently housing a meat-and-three restaurant (some say Nashville's best), a liquor store, a jewelry shop, a mini-mart and a short-term loan store (not recommended), Wendell's Corner has the essentials covered. With the success of fellow Charlotte Pike-area businesses such as Miel restaurant and Coco's Italian Market, here's hoping that Wendell's legacy gets to serve another generation of Nashville fugitives. Paul V. Griffith

Best Place to Buy Spices:
Apna Bazaar
Tell the truth: Doesn't it burn your butter biscuits to pay $4 for a 1-ounce jar of cinnamon? Sure it does. So don't. Instead, swing by 3808 Nolensville Pike once every couple of years for a 3- or 4-ounce bag at half the price. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, fennel, peppercorns, plus others—like fenugreek—that you probably don't use very often. You'll look professional, too, with that quantity of spices. The erratic hours are madly distracting, so call before you go on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. Nicki P. Wood

Best Butter:
Rock Springs Dairy
Butter, by its very nature, is amazing, but when you strip all of the corporate evilness out of it and get it straight from the source, it's downright life-changing. The butter from Rock Springs Dairy in Wildersville, Tenn., delivers the ecstasy. We were raised on Land O' Lakes and partially hydrogenated soybean oil, so the rich, yellow cream-and-salt creation blew our minds. Now, if we wind up dead and with greasy fingers, it's safe to assume we just ate an entire tub and died happy. Sean L. MaloneyBest Allergy Medication:

Best Allergy Medication:
Tennessee USA Honey Farm's Dark Wildflower Honey
We don't have any science to back that up, but we do have a number of decades of allergy experience under our belt. We know that since we began consuming Goodlettsville honey producer Tennessee USA's wild honey, would you believe, our previously debilitating sinus problems have all but evaporated. Smarter folks than us say it has something to do with pollen and building a tolerance, but we don't care. It tastes like manna from heaven, which makes it far better than anything else you can buy over the counter. Sean L. MaloneyBest Place for Fresh Herbs:

Best Place for Fresh Herbs:
Gardens of Babylon
If you do a quick cost/benefit analysis, keeping an herb garden is one of the best decisions a cook can make. Four bucks for a sprig of basil in a plastic box? Pshaw! We've got bushels of it for a fraction of the cost! With a little tender loving care and some plants from the fine folks at Gardens of Babylon you can spend the entire summer up to your eyeballs in fresh dill. The friendly, knowledgeable staff at GOB can help you choose the right plants for your yard's micro-climate to maximize your mint and raise to-die-for dill. And apartment dwellers aren't left out: Gardens of Babylon carries a great selection of stylish containers too. Sean L. MaloneyBest Reason Wake Up Early On A Saturday:

Best Reason Wake Up Early On A Saturday:
Nashville Farmers' Market
Sure, it borders on sacrilegious to spend Saturday morning doing your grocery shopping, but it's the best time to buy the best local ingredients. Whether it's sweet tomato juice from Howell's Farm Store for your Bloody Marys, feta cheese or chèvre from Kira's Kids Dairy or thick-cut bacon from Barbour Farms, the Farmers' Market has got what you need to eat like a champ. Make sure to stick around for the "Chefs at the Market" cooking demonstrations, where local culinary wizards dole out tips for cooking up your bounty. Also, get yourself a snowball from Fleur de Lis Flavors–you deserve it for waking up so early. Sean L. MaloneyBest Place to Buy Insane Amounts of Pecans:

Best Place to Buy Insane Amounts of Pecans:
The Produce Place
One of the best food investments we've made lately was a 5-pound bag of Georgia pecans for $40 at The Produce Place last fall. Five pounds of pecans means you can not only do all of your holiday cooking but also consume them by the fistful straight out of the bag, without feeling guilt. Think about it: Make a pie, eat some pecans. Bake your buns, eat some pecans. Candy your yams, eat some pecans, and so on and so forth. It really is a beautiful plan. Sean L. MaloneyBest Beef:

Best Beef:
Walnut Hills Farm
We bought 20 pounds of sirloin from Walnut Hill in Bethpage, Tenn., this spring for my sister-in-law's wedding and it was pure torture. How am I supposed to resist the lure of grass-fed, dry-aged, all-natural beefy goodness? Cutting that much wonderful meat for kabobs without just eating it raw was virtually impossible: We were like a kid in a candy store with a really sharp knife—a dangerous proposition, really. Ever since, we've been loyal fans of The Bagwell family farm. Their ground beef on the grill, over hickory hardwood, will make you forget every other hamburger you've ever had—and their steaks eclipse anything you'll ever find at the grocery store. Sean L. MaloneyBest Booze Sop:

Best Booze Sop:
Athens Family Resturaunt
Whether it's on the way back from the bar or on the way out of hangover hell, the best way to cure what ails ya is probably on the Athens menu. For us it's a Western omelet with whole-wheat toast, potatoes, a cup of coffee and a glass of water. With a friendly attentive staff that calmly absorbs our drunken declarations, Athens is a perfect place to nullify a night's worth of liver damage, and the perfect place to hide out while you wait for Johnny Law to take a nap. Sean L. Maloney

Best Service, Weird Wedding Edition:
The Acorn
The staff of the West End eatery deserves an award for putting up with us and our crazy family. The groom was an hour late, dressed like Frankenstein, and the family was freaking out. Also, the groom forgot to tell the preacher when to show up. Oops. And there was a giant cardboard castle, too, just to make things extra weird. It was full-on crisis mode for a minute there, but the Acorn staff handled it with poise and grace. The food was amazing, even if the groom couldn't see it because his eyelids were glued shut, and the waitstaff were a salve for all the jangled nerves. Extra awesome points for making our 3-year-old nephew a special plate of chicken fingers. You guys rule. Sean L. Maloney

Best CSA:
Delvin Farms
Delvin is our veggie hook-up, and we've been so consistently satisfied that we haven't shopped around. But every community supported agriculture organization deserves an award—Henley Acres, the much beloved Fresh Harvest, all of them—for bringing high-quality, environmentally friendly fresh vegetables to our tables. If we could give out an award for Best Idea in Modern Food Culture, our veggie subscriptions would take the proverbial cake. High fives all around for everyone who makes it possible for us to avoid factory-farmed mutants from the Southern hemisphere all summer long. Your hard work and dedication keep our stomachs happy and our consciences clean. Now we just need to figure out what to do with all this kale. Sean L. MaloneyBest Mexican Restaurant with a View:

Best Mexican Restaurant with a View:
Fiesta Mexicana
Perched high above Fourth Avenue South, the outdoor deck of this festive burrito-and-taco eatery offers splendid views of Nashville's always improving skyline, making it one of downtown's most popular choices for al fresco dining. Owner Esther Gonzales employs a diligent and gracious staff, who also happen to be her children, and the friendly family atmosphere rivals the view for F-Mexicana's best feature. Feasting on chicken fajitas, spinach burritos, guacamole, beans and rice, and chips and salsa—while washing it all down with a cold Tecate or a tasty margarita—is always a treat. Doing so on the Fiesta Mexicana deck is a celebration. William Williams

Best Big-City Coffee Shop:
Dunn Bros. Coffee
Want some tasty coffee in an urbane, yet quirky, space? At 2-year-old Dunn Bros., you can enjoy a latte in the main area (perfect for watching the hustle and bustle at the intersection of Church and Fourth) or repair to the secluded back room. Affable husband-and-wife team Kevan and Fawn Ker have staffed the place with the friendliest of baristas and appointed the room with cushioned chairs, wood tables, striking local art and a small live-music stage. There's an intriguing micro-roaster at the main entrance that's worth a look, as well as a selection of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, deli sandwiches, soups, cookies, teas and coffees worth a taste. William Williams

Best Overlooked Indian:
Cuisine of India
In a city that boasts a plethora of dal, saag and tandoori chicken, Hillsboro Village-based Cuisine of India often hovers below the radar when it comes to the question of best Indian cuisine. But those who dine at C of I know the place serves aloo gobi and basmati rice with the same skill and purpose that LeBron James exhibits when he hammers home a vicious dunk. The owner—Tony, to his adoring diners—strikes a commanding presence in the dining room, which is adorned with some lovably cheesy wall art. Serving some seriously fine Indian food, Cuisine of India is not to be overlooked. William Williams

Best Thai Atmosphere:
International Market & Restaurant
The lovably feisty Ms. Patti Myint has created a tofu-and-noodles institution on Belmont Boulevard, where her 35-year-old Thai eatery/Asian market oozes character and quirkiness. In the cramped dining room-cum-grocery aisles—crowded with plants, groceries and happy diners—the scent alone is joyous. Need some obscure seasoning for your rice dish? Hard-to-find mushroom sauce? Exotic candy? You'll find them at IM&R. This writer almost always visits the eatery solo, once prompting Patti to note, "You need a honey spice." Hmm, what tantalizing Thai dish could that be, I wondered? Silly me. Patti meant a girlfriend. William Williams

Best Brotherly Love Involving Pizza:
Venito's Pizza
Venito's Pizza owner Merdan Ibrahim has employed his younger brothers (up to four at a time) at his Church Street eatery, and the family affair works well. Merdan is hands-on, often delivering pies himself. The Ibrahims hail from Northern Iraq, where an uncle lost his life under Saddam Hussein's regime. But the Brothers Ibrahim radiate positive karma, with obvious gratitude for life in the U. S. As for the popular Kurdistan dish of tomato-paste-based soup filled with white beans and chunks of beef, and served with white rice and fried noodles? Nowhere to be found on Venito's menu. No worries. The pizza, and brotherly love, will suffice. William Williams

Best Cocktail Trend:
Using Liquor as a Mixer
Historically, the training-wheels beverage of amateur drunks could usually be described by the following formula: well liquor + sweet carbonated mixer + sliced citrus fruit garnish. Luckily, modern mixologists at establishments such as Rumba, Past Perfect, Flyte, Virago and The Patterson House have learned the value of quality ingredients, as well as the impact of the subtle interplay between different liquors and liqueurs. Try the St. Germaine/Hendricks cocktail with a basil leaf floater at Grille 1808 or the Manhattan in a Laphroaig-licked glass at The Patterson House, and tell me you still miss the cranberry in your cosmo. Chris Chamberlain

Best Booze News:
The Liquor Dam Is Cracking
While the bill to permit the sale of wine in grocery stores stalled again in committee, it did garner a warmer reception and a broader scope of debate than in years past. New laws passed during this legislative session also allow the distillation of spirits in 41 counties in addition to the locales where Messrs. Dickel and Daniel have traditionally drawn their spring water. Finally, in an effort to decriminalize what has been happening in the carry-on bags at BNA for decades, it is now legal to ship wine into Tennessee from out-of-state wineries that pay $300 non-refundable application fee and $150 annual permit fee. Maybe the state can use that money to pay for extra security in state parks and bars, now that it's also legal to be packin' something else into those locations. Chris Chamberlain

Best Industrial Relocations:
Corsair Artisan Spirits and Yazoo Brewing Co.
Thanks to the new ordinance authorizing the "manufacture of intoxicating liquors" in Davidson County, two young liquor-preneurs behind Corsair Artisan Spirits will bring some of their booze-brewing business from Kentucky to the current location of Yazoo Brewery in Marathon Village. Meanwhile, Team Yazoo will head to the Gulch. When the wind is right and the hoppy aroma of the brewery intermingles with the smoky goodness of Jimmy Carl's Lunch Box, the Scene offices should be Ground Zero of olfactory nirvana. (Speaking of industrial relocations, this news is just going to make Scene edit staff even more pissed off about the move from the Gulch to Grassmere.) Chris Chamberlain

Best Alternative to Drinking Alone:
Wine Tastings at Vinea
The Wine Education Series sponsored by Vinea, Omni Beverage and Fido provides a six-week curriculum covering the history of wine, various varietals and meritages, flavor profiles and structures, as well as tasty small-plate pairings from Fido chef John Stephenson. Vinea's periodic Saturday afternoon tastings at Corrieri's Formaggeria have turned into an opportunity for folks in 12South to mix and mingle while noshing on exotic cheeses—sorta like Thirsty Thursday at the Sounds games but with the chance to see Ben Folds instead of Ozzie. Vinea has recently started charging $5 in an effort to reduce the riff-raff. But I'm still going. Chris Chamberlain

Best (Imported) Wine Importer:
The Wine Chap
If you're looking for somewhere to pass the time while your children are eating their weight in gummy worms and froyo at Sweet CeCe's, may we suggest stepping a few doors down to a more refined adult destination, The Wine Chap Wine and Spirits. Ex-Londoner Richard Payne and wife Barbara Keith, a.k.a. the Chapesse, have opened a delightfully spacious and airy grape emporium where they offer excellent advice and bargain wine finds. They are both active Nashville Twitterati, interacting with customers on a regular basis about topics other than just the latest deal on Chianti. We suggest you follow them (@thewine chap and @winechapesse) and visit their shop soon. Just don't ask them to mix Reese's Pieces into your Shiraz. Chris Chamberlain

Best Place to Chart Downtown's Growth:
Mad Platter
When Marcia and Craig Jervis debuted the dining room at the corner of Sixth and Monroe in 1980, the then-affordable area of Germantown had deteriorated from a prosperous suburb where church services were conducted in German to a district of boarding houses, flophouses and absentee landlords. Armed with a stack of recipes and a big idea, the Jarvises launched the restaurant the same year as the first Oktoberfest. Decades ahead of their time, they grew their own herbs, developed a chef-driven culinary personality and attracted a cult-like cadre of devoted employees. Diners rely on the menu of proven favorites plus daily specials in the cozy brick-walled dining room. When you go, try to remember that the house was built when indoor plumbing was a crazy dream in the future. Nicki P. Wood

Best Catering for a Big, Hungry Crowd:

Copper Kettle
Good as the meat-and-three is at the beloved downtown and Granny White stores, don't be fooled into thinking that's all there is. The catering menu is much wider. The Mediterranean spread is a 5-foot-long array of dips, vegetables, cheeses, marinated artichokes, local tomatoes and bread. There's heartier pick-up fare, too, such as chicken skewers, shrimp in phyllo, crab Rangoon and goat-cheese cakes. But, you know, if you want a hot meat-and-three buffet with some red velvet cake bread pudding, they can bring that too. Nicki P. Wood

Best Dairy Trend:
Unhomogenized Milk
Lighten coffee with unhomogenized milk, and you get gorgeous cream-colored bits of glorious butterfat melting into the dark roast, mellowing it and leaving glowing beads on top. It's not a beverage—it's a meal. And where can you experience this deliciousness? Hatcher Family Dairy products (available at the Produce Place on Murphy Road) and Rebekah Grace, which packages milk in old-fashioned glass bottles and sells it at the Farmers' Market on Saturdays. Nicki P. Wood

Best Chance at Seeing Eternity in Your Fellow Man:
Meal Service at the Campus for Human Development
If your group/office/club wants a worthwhile project, call up the Campus, a.k.a. Room in the Inn, and offer to bring lunch. You'll serve 200 of the city's most vulnerable but interesting residents, and you'll never view homeless people, their lives or your life the same thereafter. The experience is simultaneously depressing, exhilarating, fascinating and exhausting—and it will teach you a valuable lesson about the importance of Cash 'N Carry on Charlotte Avenue. Nicki Wood

Best Fusion of High and Low Culture:
Venison Carpaccio at Midtown Cafe
Deer meat just doesn't get the respect and glamour bestowed upon more exotic meats such as ostrich or bison. So it seldom enjoys the august carpaccio treatment of being shaved, pounded and displayed like minimalist artwork on a white platter with toast points, mustard and a drizzle of expensive oil. Seldom seen in Nashville outside Randy Rayburn's chic understated eatery, the earthy and elegant dish is worth stalking, even for the most urban of huntsmen. Jason ShawHan

Best Reason to Await Cold Weather:
Mayan Hot Chocolate, Crema
The last time proprietor Rachel Lehman told us she'd stopped serving her signature hot chocolate for the season, we looked so crestfallen that she actually winced. But the frost has an appointment with the pumpkin, and that means the return of her throat-burning, sinus-clearing cocoa spiced with flaming red pepper and spices unknown. It'll be all the sweeter on Crema's new deck overlooking Rolling Mill Hill and an expansive downtown view—and you'll also want one of Sweet 16th's heavenly scones from her counter. JIM RIDLEY

Best Meals to Look Forward To:
Table 3, M Street and Chez Lis
If the tough economy has a bright side, it's that Culinary Darwinism is thinning the herd and only the fittest of the foodies are surviving. Count among those survivors the restaurateurs behind F. Scott's, Virago and Lime. In the coming months F. Scott's team Elise Loehr, Wendy Burch and Will Uhlhorn are preparing to launch Table 3, a brasserie-market in the former location of Princeton's Grille, and Chris Hyndman of Virago and Lime is steadily building M Street—a dining district in the Gulch along McGavock Street, comprising Whiskey Kitchen, Kayne Prime steak house and a relocated Virago. Meanwhile, Virago/Lime alum Clay Greenberg is fine-tuning Chez Lis, a French bistro in Green Hills named for his daughter, Lily. Carrington Fox

Before & After

Many Nashvillians’ first exposure to Thai cooking was at Belmont Boulevard’s venerable International Market, opened by Patti Myint in 1975. Her son Arnold was born two years later, and Patti placed a bassinet in the store/restaurant for her baby boy. He began working the register and steam table as soon as he was tall enough to reach. Since then, he’s become one of Nashville’s most popular restaurateurs in his own right with PM, this year’s Cha Chah, and the newly opened Suzy Wong’s House of Yum on Church Street. One afternoon at Cha Chah last week, the Scene asked the Myints how it all began.

Patti Myint: “Belmont Boulevard was nothing then. My husband was a professor and we lived in the neighborhood. I saw this building, half of it was boarded up and half was an appliance store. So we got it and I opened a market so I could sell food from home that we couldn’t find. People who lived in the neighborhood would come by and point, ‘What’s that? What’s that?’ This food was new to Nashville; there was nothing like this then.”
Arnold Myint: “My mother introduced Thai food to Nashville. Growing up in a restaurant was normal for me. This neighborhood was great—it was more bohemian back then, lots of creative people. I wasn’t aware that it was considered seedy, that my dad had been held up at gunpoint in the market. I rode my bike all over like everyone else. My birthday parties were at the market. At USN bake sales the other moms brought in beautiful cupcakes, and my mom brought fried wontons. I’d go to a friend’s house after school and have a Coke; they’d come to my house and have coconut milk and egg roll. I just wanted cheese and crackers.”
PM: (laughing) “We didn’t have cheese and crackers.”
AM: “Twenty years ago, I was 12, training for nationals (ice skating) hoping to make the Olympics one day; after high school, I traveled all over the world skating. I noticed that every time I came home, Nashville was getting more and more progressive. It didn’t seem so much anymore a place I had to move away from to be who I am.”
PM: “I always thought he would be a musician. His father wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer. But we just wanted him to be happy.”
AM: “My mom traveled with me in Europe a lot when I was skating. One time she told me she thought she might open a pub. I said, ‘A pub? Are you kidding me?’ I told my friends back home to watch out, she’ll be opening a place called O’Patti’s.”
PM: “I opened PM as a way to get him back here. He had been to culinary school in New York and I thought if I opened a place like that he would come back to Nashville to help me.”
AM: “I couldn’t believe she opened PM! I was used to her saying to me all the time, ‘How much did that cost? Do you know how many egg rolls I had to roll to make that kind of money?’ I thought, ‘Damn, she rolled a lot of egg rolls to open this place.’ At first I stayed in New York and I just consulted. She freaked out when I bought new plates. They were $8 each. She said, ‘I can get plates at Pottery Barn for $1!’”
PM: “He is expensive; he’s good at spending money. But the kid is good. He created this place.”
AM: “I worked on the concept a long time, for another location, but it fell through and my mom told me the building was available. It’s good to have the three restaurants, like one big commissary. We run back and forth between the three. My sister is in fashion, and lives in New York. Mom wants to open a clothing store here to get her back too.”
PM: (smiling) “I tell my children: Have a goal, stick with what you want to do, stay positive and work hard. You’ll be happy.” KAY WEST


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